...[T]he content that thrives in the new distribution-and-display systems is suspiciously different from the American popular culture we used to love even 10 years ago. Thrillers, it seems, donít flourish on Hulu. No one is reading a six-part investigative series about mayoral malfeasance on Twitter....
[This] argument says we [in traditional media] have to change. We have to develop content that metamorphoses in sync with new ways of experiencing it, disseminating it and monetizing it....[W]e have to invent new forms. All of the fascinating, particular, sometimes beautiful and already quaint ways of organizing words and images that evolved in the previous centuries ó music reviews, fashion spreads, page-one news reports, action movies, late-night talk shows ó are designed for a world that no longer exists. They fail to address existing desires, while conscientiously responding to desires people no longer have....
Does anyone still believe that the forms of movies, television, magazines and newspapers might exist independently of their rapidly changing modes of distribution? The thought has become unsustainable....
The fact that articles live in digital form and no longer, primarily, on paper, frees them from certain constraints that seem absolutely normal to old-media people and archaic if not just stupid to everyone else....
Heffernan is writing about news and popular culture, but how far do her conclusions carry over to research literature? Some online journal articles are little more than digital editions of printed text. Their only concessions to the new medium are links, searchability, and cut/pasteable text --and sometimes not even cut/pasteable text. By contrast, other online journal articles embrace features impossible in print, starting with links, searchability, and cut/pasteable text, but extending to audio, video, manipulable graphics, queryable databases, executable code, integrated data sets, associated downloads, subsequent updates, reader comments, and freedom from restrictive limitations on length. Many online journals are moving from the former to the latter, some slowly and some quickly. But when we compare the two types --the print relics and the net natives-- do we find what Heffernan found? To control key variables, we'd have to compare articles (or journals) that are roughly equal in quality, and all OA or all TA. But if we did, would we find that slow evolvers are being punished in the market? Is there a correlation between readership/viewership/usage and taking advantage of the new medium?
I'm fascinated by the question and will keep thinking about it. But my first take is that the answer is no. Slow evolvers are helped along by user conservatism and practices like bundling. Only non-academics will be surprised to hear that academics might be conservative about anything, let alone more conservative than consumers of news, or that academic publishing might be more distorted by monopolistic practices than news publishing. But that only shows the peculiarity of our circumstances. Other things being equal, innovations that are good for users and communication would also be good for traffic, downloads, readership, usage, impact, and (in the case of TA journals) revenue. Taking advantage of the new medium is good for users and communication, but other things are not equal.
Two other variables, quickly: (1) Cost. Adding features impossible in print can be more expensive than sticking to digital text. I know this firsthand as the author of a newsletter that does almost nothing to take advantage of the new medium --beyond OA itself. (2) Disciplinary differences. In some fields, there is little to display visually and no data to offer, chart, or integrate. My field (philosophy) is one of those. But even in fields where audio, video, and data, are more to the point, one needn't be conservative to rank the opportunities offered by the new medium and reaffirm the primacy of text.
Peter Suber at 12/06/2008 05:14:00 PM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.